The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

by Giorgio Bassani

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 375

Isolation is a major theme of the novel. As racial laws increasingly target the Jews in Italy, the wealthy Finzi-Continis, who already have set themselves apart, become increasingly isolated. They create their own tennis club on their own tennis courts, isolate themselves behind the high walls of their home, and spend time in their lavish library. They bring the elements of the outside that they want in, buying what they need, as if they can open the gates when they wish but at the same time wall out evil. Of course, they can't: in the end those Finzi-Continis who don't die beforehand perish in the concentration camps.

Death is another theme of the novel. The story is told in retrospect, and readers already know the fate of European Jewry, which hangs like a cloud over the Finzi-Contini family. It is the death of the Finzi-Contini's oldest son at age 6 to meningitis, which the parents believe was brought on by contact with the outside world, that leads to their isolation. Cemeteries, reflecting the presence of death, are a hovering presence in the novel: for example Ermanno Finzi-Contini has published a book of the inscriptions on graves in the Jewish cemetery in Venice, a cemetery where he proposed marriage to his wife. Even the new life implied by marriage is shadowed, therefore, by the reality of death. Further, Alberto's gradual death from cancer foreshadows the fate in the death camps that awaits his family.

Stasis also a theme. The Finzi-Continis live isolated and suspended—especially Alberto and Micol—not knowing what the future holds or whether all their endeavors, such as seeking education, are exercises in futility. The Finzi-Continis have the money to surround themselves with art and literature, but the novel questions whether art is life or a form of living death. In the end, it cannot keep them alive or provide safety.

Love emerges as a theme as the narrator falls in love with Micol, an enigmatic figure who eludes and sometimes seems to tease him. She connects love with death and tells him she will never marry. Her possible incestuously tinged relationship with Alberto and the triangle posed by the sexually experienced Malnate add to the sexually charged tension and frustration of the novel.

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